Mideast Nuclear Arms Race?

William Sutherland
 


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With the December 2006 Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) announcement of plans to “develop a joint nuclear program for peaceful purposes”[1] followed on the heals of Egypt’s expressed desire to harness nuclear energy and Iran’s continued progress, a Mideast nuclear arms race may be underway. It is also unlikely to be reversed now that Israel’s policy of “amimut” or nuclear ambiguity has been shattered – first by U. S. Secretary of Defense nominee Robert Gates who stated “that Israel has nuclear weapons”[2] and then by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who stated, when asked about Tehran’s nuclear program, “Iran explicitly, openly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you see that is the same level when you are aspiring to have a nuclear weapon as America, France, Israel and Russia?”[3] – unless her nuclear stockpiles are dismantled and destroyed.

When the GCC, established in 1981 to “improve the coordination and cooperation and promote regional integration among its member states” consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) made its announcement, the organization’s Secretary-General Abdul-Rahman al-Attiya reiterated Iran’s official position – “states of the region have a right to possess nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. ”[4] “…taking advantage of nuclear energy is the demand of all the Iranian nation. The Iranian nation insists on this right and will not retreat one iota, ” [5] Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared in October 2006 after calling “his country’s nuclear program ‘transparent’ and ‘peaceful. ’”[6]

While Western governments and Israel depict a nuclear Iran as a grave threat to regional and even global security, perhaps with good reason considering Ahmadinejad’s repeated declarations that “Israel must be wiped off the map”[7] and continued questioning of the occurrence and legitimacy of the Holocaust that resulted in the loss of more than 6 million overwhelmingly Jewish lives from 1938-1945, they have undermined their moral standing and credibility through inconsistencies and double-standards. During the Summer 2006 Hezbollah-Israel War, Olmert pursued a misguided policy of targeting the Lebanese civilian infrastructure (e. g. bridges, power plants, Beirut International Airport’s runways, etc. ), in the process killing more than a thousand Lebanese civilians instead of focusing solely on Hezbollah fighters while Washington and much of the West dithered until the criticism reached unbearable levels and Israel became bogged down in a protracted stalemate. Secondly, Israel’s “apartheid-like” treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories, as termed by former President Jimmy Carter, that includes economic privations and the continued construction of a “separation” wall declared illegal – “The construction of the wall and its associated regimes are contrary to international law, ”[8] – by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has not helped either. Worse yet, Arab calls to transform the Middle East into a permanent weapons of mass destruction (WMD) free zone went unheeded as the West pursued an unrealistic approach. They remained silent about Israel’s nuclear arsenal while denouncing the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran, fueling Arab animosity and defiance.

Accordingly, Egyptian government and military officials along with scholars have made no secret that Cairo’s revived nuclear program is aimed not only at addressing the country’s “economic and electricity needs” but to serve as “some guarantee of security against the Israeli nuclear threat. ”[9] However, the West may get a second chance since the GCC upon making its announcement also expressed that “they wanted a region free of weapons of mass destruction, and called on Israel to renounce nuclear weapons and allow international inspection of all its atomic facilities. ”[10]

When discussing the possible Mideast nuclear arms race, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Saud al-Faisal blamed Israel. He declared that Tel Aviv’s nuclear weapons program was the “original sin that allowed for proliferation in the region. ”[11] Robert Gates also pointed to Israel among others during his confirmation hearing while discussing Tehran’s logic when he recited “the states near Iran that have nuclear weapons – Pakistan, India and Israel – and noted that not long ago, Saddam Hussein's Iraq also attempted to acquire the bomb” while adding, “the United States is a nuclear power, and its forces are deployed in Iran's vicinity throughout the Middle East, and Russia, another nuclear power, is also nearby. ”[12]

Yet since Israel’s nuclear weapons program was revealed by Mordechai Vanunu, a technician who worked at the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev desert, 20 years have passed without as much as a word that she play her required role in preventing the proliferation of nuclear arms. Both Israel and the West justified their double standards with the mistaken belief that only nuclear weapons could ensure the Jewish state’s survival in a hostile region even though Israel held and continues to hold an overwhelming conventional military edge and use of nuclear weapons against neighboring Arab states would also subject Israelis to a lethal radioactive fallout.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s justification for his country’s nuclear arsenal also does not bode well when it comes to containing the region’s proliferation. When comparing the existing nuclear powers that also include Israel, Olmert stated, “You are talking about civilized countries that do not threaten the foundations of the world that do not threaten other countries that they will use the nuclear weapons in order to destroy them. That is why there is a big difference. ”[13]

"Iran and Syria support genocide which makes the presence of these weapons in both Damascus and Tehran a destabilizing force in the Middle East, ” Dr. Raanan Gissin, a former senior official for ex-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon added when interviewed by the Israel News Agency even though Syria has never announced an intent to pursue a nuclear program of any kind. [14]

Yet there is little difference, as Vanunu, who again placed his personal safety and freedom at risk when talking, pointed out during a recent interview when discussing his reasoning for going to the London Sunday Times in 1986. “I realized my country had already processed enough plutonium for 200 nuclear weapons. I became really afraid when we started processing Lithium 6, which is only used for the hydrogen bomb. I felt I had to prevent a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East…”[15] Next, when it comes to genocide, there is already debate about whether or not Israel is actively committing genocide against the Palestinian people through systematic actions that have resulted in mass displacement, abominable standards of life and thousands of deaths.

It must also be noted that during the early years of Israel’s nuclear program that began in 1952 with the establishment of the country’s Atomic Energy Commission, even the United States expressed concern when in 1958 U-2 flights revealed construction of a facility that Israeli leaders initially described as “a textile plant, an agricultural station and a metallurgical research facility until 1960” when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion recited the now all too familiar line that the Dimona Nuclear Plant was being built for “peaceful purposes. ”[16] Subsequently in 1968, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) quietly concluded that Israel was building nuclear weapons ushering in the era of “amimut” or nuclear ambiguity that has finally come to a formal end nearly 40 years later.

U. S. concerns about a nuclear Middle East are not unwarranted. With today’s instability and hardening of positions, never has the danger been more real or present that a nuclear weapon could fall into terrorist hands, either through revolution or government collapse, theft or even the deliberate transfer if a regime recklessly concludes that the plausible denial afforded by such a transfer would serve its geopolitical interests. Such concerns are not exclusive to Arab states alone.

A September 1999 U. S. Air Force Counterproliferation Paper clearly illustrates the danger that Israel’s nuclear arsenal presents as it questions Israeli nuclear security and the possibility of misuse, theft or even the more frightening prospect that “a right wing military government [would] decide to employ nuclear weapons recklessly” or that an extremist group could seize one or more devices. “A 1997 article reviewing the Israeli Defense Force repeatedly stressed the possibilities of, and the need to guard against, a religious, right wing military coup. ”[17]

At the same time, the “rejectionist” philosophies of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who decries Israel’s existence and former and possibly future Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who opposes the existence of an independent and viable Palestinian state cannot be ignored. With both in power, the risk of a nuclear miscalculation by either or both parties rises exponentially especially since, as the U. S. Air Force Counterproliferation Paper concludes, “Israel, like Iran, has desires of regional power. ”[18] Worse yet is the warning made by former Israeli President Ezer Weizman who stated “the nuclear issue is gaining momentum [and the] next war will not be conventional. [19]

Most alarming, though, as the possible Mideast nuclear arms race takes off, is that it has become apparent that the effects of a regional nuclear war will not be limited to the parties involved nor confined to the immediate affected area. “New studies [presented by Alan Robock of Rutgers University have suggested] that [even] a small, regional nuclear conflict involving only a few weapons could have staggering global climate consequences, bringing about a 10-year-long cooling… unprecedented in recorded history [and even colder than the ‘Little Ice Age’ of 1650-1850, that was] devastating to agriculture and society at large” with a “reduction in the growing season by 10 to 30 days, [and a] reduction of precipitation… [and] sunlight” especially if these weapons targeted major population centers (e. g. Tehran or Tel Aviv). [20] At the same time, such a dire scenario does not address the radioactive precipitation that would fall throughout the globe rendering daily use of iodine pills a necessity nor the long-term health affects that would further hamper the global economy.

Because of the inherent threat to the global community as a whole, it is more imperative than ever that the Mideast nuclear issue be pursued with urgency to bring an immediate halt to and reversal of the region’s sudden proliferation. However, for any policy aimed at creating a weapons of mass destruction free region to achieve success, evenhandedness and consistency must be involved.

Per Joe Parko, “a special contributor to Atlanta Progressive News, “If we truly want to stop the nuclear arms race in the Middle East, Israel must be required to open its nuclear weapons program to inspection [and if] we want Iran to renounce nuclear weapons, we must also get Israel to stop building bombs in secret and begin dismantling its large nuclear arsenal. Our goal must be a nuclear-free Middle East and this must include Israel. ”[21]

The USAF Counterproliferation Center concurs implying that Israel’s nuclear capability “may not be in America's interest” in that it “will become less useful… and spur a regional arms race” that may have already begun. [22]

In addition, such a policy would also have to be pragmatic and realistic in that all Mideast states regardless of their political differences would be free to pursue their right to engage in nuclear programs strictly for civilian and peaceful purposes as long as these programs are equally transparent and open to the same unimpeded oversight and inspections as deemed necessary by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) without prejudice.

Last such a policy would have to address regional security issues. To ensure maximum effectiveness, the United States, Russia and the European Union (EU) could sign off on an “umbrella" security agreement in which they would guarantee the defense of each and every Middle Eastern state (within the context and finalized borders of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when it pertains to these two nations) as long as it did not initiate a conflict with another backed by the explicit guarantee that an attack on any Middle Eastern state would constitute an attack on them and be treated as such.

Only then could the Mideast’s nuclear weapons genie be put back into the bottle alleviating what Robock calls “perhaps the greatest danger to the stability of society since the dawn of humanity” because of “[t]he current combination of nuclear proliferation, political instability, and urban demographics. ”[23]
_

[1] GCC announces plans for joint nuclear program. aljazeera.com. 11 December 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.aljazeera.com/me.asp?service_ID=12715

[2] Ze’ev Schiff. Gates testimony/Preserving nuclear ambiguity. Ha’aretz. 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/798771.html

[3] Olmert: Iran wants nuclear weapons like Israel. ynet news.com. 12 December 2006. 12 December 2006. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340, L-3338783,00.html

[4] GCC announces plans for joint nuclear program. aljazeera.com. 11 December 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.aljazeera.com/me.asp?service_ID=12715

[5] Iran’s Ahmadinejad Says Nuclear Program Will Proceed. Fox News. 23 October 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,223722,00.html

[6] David Jackson and Barbara Slavin. Iran’s leader defends nuclear program at U. N. USA Today. 20 September 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2006-09-19-iran-un_x.htm

[7] Ahmadinejad: Wipe Israel off map. aljazeera.com. 28 October 2005. 11 December 2006. http://english. aljazeera.net/news/archive/archive?ArchiveId=15816

[8] Ramzy Baroud. ICJ Ruling Vindicates International Law, Not International Community. Palestine Chronicle. 25 July 2004. 11 December 2006. http://www.vtjp.org/background/wallreport9.htm

[9] Egypt Profile: Nuclear Overview. NTI. November 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/Egypt/Nuclear/index.html

[10] GCC announces plans for joint nuclear program. aljazeera.com. 11 December 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.aljazeera.com/me.asp?service_ID=12715

[11] Andy Critchlow. Saudi, Gulf States to Study Using Nuclear Technology (Update4). Bloomberg.com. 10 December 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=ant3gmyiATa8&refer=home

[12] Ze’ev Schiff. Gates testimony/Preserving nuclear ambiguity. Ha’aretz. 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/798771.html

[13] Olmert: Iran wants nuclear weapons like Israel. ynet news.com. 12 December 2006. 12 December 2006. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340, L-3338783,00.html

[14] Joel Leyden. Good Evening Iran, Syria, Israel Has Nuclear Weapons. Israel News Agency. 10 December 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.israelnewsagency.com/israelnuclearweaponsolmertiransyriaterrorism481211.html

[15] Joe Parko. Israeli Nuclear Whistleblower Speaks Out. OpEdNews.com. 9 December 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_joe_park_061209_israeli_nuclear_whis.htm

[16] Joel Leyden. Good Evening Iran, Syria, Israel Has Nuclear Weapons. Israel News Agency. 10 December 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.israelnewsagency.com/israelnuclearweaponsolmertiransyriaterrorism481211.html

[17] Warner D. Farr, LTC, U. S. Army. The Third Temple’s Holy of Holies: Israel’s Nuclear Weapons. The Counterproliferation Papers. Future Warfare Series No. 2. USAF Counterproliferation Center. September 1999. 12 December 2006. http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/farr.htm

[18] Warner D. Farr, LTC, U. S. Army. The Third Temple’s Holy of Holies: Israel’s Nuclear Weapons. The Counterproliferation Papers. Future Warfare Series No. 2. USAF Counterproliferation Center. September 1999. 12 December 2006. http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/farr.htm

[19] Warner D. Farr, LTC, U. S. Army. The Third Temple’s Holy of Holies: Israel’s Nuclear Weapons. The Counterproliferation Papers. Future Warfare Series No. 2. USAF Counterproliferation Center. September 1999. 12 December 2006. http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/farr.htm

[20] David McAlary. Research Shows Small Nuclear War Could Wreak Havoc. newsVOA.com. 11 December 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.voanews.com/english/2006-12-11-voa63. cfm

[21] Joe Parko. Israeli Nuclear Whistleblower Speaks Out. OpEdNews.com. 9 December 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_joe_park_061209_israeli_nuclear_whis.htm

[22] Warner D. Farr, LTC, U. S. Army. The Third Temple’s Holy of Holies: Israel’s Nuclear Weapons. The Counterproliferation Papers. Future Warfare Series No. 2. USAF Counterproliferation Center. September 1999. 12 December 2006. http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/farr.htm

[23] David McAlary. Research Shows Small Nuclear War Could Wreak Havoc. newsVOA.com. 11 December 2006. 11 December 2006. http://www.voanews.com/english/2006-12-11-voa63. cfm

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Additional Sources:

Little Ice Age. Wikipedia. 6 December 2006. 11 December 2006. http://en. wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Ice_Age

William Sutherland. My 7-Point Peace Plan for the Middle East. EzineArticles. 16 July 2006. 11 December 2006. http://ezinearticles.com/?My-7-Point-Peace-Plan-for-the-Middle-East&id=244664

William Sutherland is a published poet and writer. He is the author of three books, “Poetry, Prayers & Haiku" (1999), “Russian Spring" (2003) and “Aaliyah Remembered: Her Life & The Person behind the Mystique" (2005) and has been published in poetry anthologies around the world. He has been featured in “Who's Who in New Poets" (1996), “The International Who's Who in Poetry" (2004), and is a member of the “International Poetry Hall of Fame. " He is also a contributor to Wikipedia, the number one online encyclopedia.

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